I REFER to the letter "Defending constitutional democracy" in English daily by Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim.
Many moderates and old timers schooled in the Western tradition would certainly agree with his argument that "...Malaysia cannot afford to make the same mistake of some Muslim countries whose leaders have suddenly realised that their countries had gone too far in implementing syariah laws and needed to reform and modernise to get the economies moving and to improve the lives of the people...".
Unfortunately, times have changed, for better or for worse, depending on one's interpretation and values. Since nothing is permanent except change, the G25 of eminent Malays representing the voice of moderation simply have to accept the change and make the necessary adjustment in the face of advancing syariah laws in Malaysia which is slowly but surely affecting the lives of Muslims in particular.
It is not that the Prime Minister does not appreciate and turn a deaf ear to the pleas made by Sheriff ("...We need the Prime Minister's leadership to set up the consultative council..."), but that the Prime Minister has to look at the bigger picture in nation building.
What good is the proposed consultative council if it only ends in bitter acrimony as those taking part speak different languages like the chicken and the duck? Is it possible to open up the mind of the religious authorities when the G25 argue on the need to understand and respect constitutional democracy without the perceived solid understanding of Islam?
The religious authorities can come up with very strong arguments and justification on the need for syariah laws by quoting the many verses of the Quran, and at the same time defend that modernisation does not run into conflict with Islam. And they can even argue that what they are doing is in line with the teaching of moderation in Islam as explained very clearly by the G25 recently.
For 22 years, Tun Mahathir Mohamed held power and tried his best to bring about moderation. In his last years in office, he introduced the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, hoping that besides benefitting the students in acquiring English, they would be more broadminded and moderate in their worldviews with wide reading.
Unfortunately, the nationalistic feeling was too strong to defend what was seen as good for the nation, and after 6 years of using English, it revert back to Bahasa Malaysia.
Similarly, a syariah law is spreading like wildfire in Muslim countries the world over as the answer to the many social ills faced by Muslims as a result of unchecked exposure to Western values. While some see the implementation of syariah laws as one form of extremism going against constitutional democracy, the religious authorities see it as a necessity as required by Islam for the good of Muslims and the nation.
Given the divergent views, where do we go from here? Maybe we should stop using the labels "moderate" or "extremist", but instead choose the middle path. Our leaders should lead the way to the middle path as laid by our founding fathers like the late Tunku Abdul Rahman.
As I see it, multi-racial Malaysia can take the middle path for so long as the three main races of Malays, Chinese and Indians respect one another vis-a-vis their culture, religious beliefs and worldviews. Unity in diversity should be the basis of 1Malaysia, with moderation seen as a way of life. Malaysians are matured enough to know what is good for the nation, having seen the various conflict, turmoil and sufferings in many parts of the world.